District in Philadelphia suburb taps into technology to streamline lunch service.
More students who qualify for free or reduced-priced meals in the Cherry Hill (NJ) School District are participating in lunch, while parents are enjoying more control over kids’ meal selections, since the district converted to a computerized point-of-sale system.
As of the 2004-’05 school year, all students in the Cherry Hill schools either swipe their student identification cards or punch in their ID number on a keypad after choosing their lunch items, reports Aramark’s foodservice director Alicia Kent. The system allows parents to pre-pay the district for meals, in which case the card or account attached to the student’s ID serves as a declining-balance debit account. But students can still pay with cash.
Status equalizer: Cherry Hill is a suburb of Philadelphia just across the Delaware River. Kent says the new POS system eliminated the stigma attached to receiving free and reduced-price meals for the 10% of the district’s 11,800 students who are eligible—particularly in the secondary schools. She explains that the meal ticket system used in the elementary schools prevented possible stigmatization since all students used the tickets no matter whether they prepaid for their meals or received them free. But, that was not the case at the middle and high school level where students’ status was more noticeable.
About 60% of the parents of the elementary school students are pre-paying for meals. It’s a less-utilized option in the secondary schools, but there is about an average of $30,000 money deposited in the coffers on a given day. Kent says the system, which cost about $130,000 to implement, is working well and that the pre-pay option is trending up.
She notes that if a student in the middle or high school runs out of funds on their card, he or she is allowed to borrow money from the office for the day to get lunch. At the elementary level, cafeteria employees will let students get lunch with a depleted account, but the district will notify the parents of the negative balance.
Parental controls: Parents may also use the system to check on what their children have been selecting at the cafeteria and place limitations on items they don’t want their kids to have. ”The parents are enjoying it because it gives them more control,” says Kent.
The youngest customers in the district are also enjoying the system, which for them has eliminated the anxiety of having to keep track of their lunch tickets. “The little ones are doing outstanding,” says Kent. “They remember their ID numbers better than the older ones, and they are so proud.”
The learning curve was fairly comfortable for the foodservice employees, as well, according to Kent, who says that even employees with little computer experience have quickly gained confidence using the system.
Other benefits of the system are quicker queues as students become familiar with the new procedure, and the district’s ability to better track what’s selling and what’s not in the cafeterias.
Library Java Shop Books Extra Sales
Cherry Hill Public Schools’ foodservice team is boosting revenues since opening a coffee shop this past spring at a new local public library—a mutually beneficial partnership that provides foodservice for the library and funding for the school district.
Foodservice director Alicia Kent reports that the Cherry Hill Township, in order to boost library attendance, built a new facility complete with a café area on the first floor, and needed a management team to create an enticing environment in it. The school district, an Aramark account, now runs the library’s full-service Java City coffee shop, offering coffees, teas, a number of blended drinks, juices, sandwiches, fruit cups and other light fare. Java City is an independent branded concept that Aramark often places in its accounts in all market segments.
Revenue from the shop helps the school district, since money goes back into the foodservice department. “The district is reimbursed for any costs and receives a subsidy for the use of the property and for management co-labor,” Kent explains. “We’ve been looking to help Cherry Hill grow its foodservice position.”
Not just coffee: “We sell as much food as we do coffee,” Kent adds, noting that the shop does an average of about 140 to 150 transactions daily. “We sell a lot of sandwiches, fruit cups and veggie cups. We see a lot of parents come down from the children’s library and they’ll split sandwiches with their child or get a snack.”
The library has also become a destination spot for some employees of local businesses who come in for lunch.
School foodservice staff prepares the food, which is then delivered daily to the library. Sandwiches cost $3.50 and include roast beef and Swiss cheese; ham and Cheddar; and a peanut butter and jelly wrap.